Polokwane - President Jacob Zuma has commended the country's progress in addressing gender imbalances and emancipation of women, saying the country has made great strides to improve the status of women since attaining democracy in 1994.
"Advances have been made in the representation of women in political decision making positions. The representation of women in Parliament jumped tenfold from 2.7% during the apartheid period, to 27% after the historic first democratic elections of 1994," Zuma said in his address at the Women's Day celebration rally at Peter Mokaba Sadium in Polokwane.
He said government wanted to see "visible" change for women in all walks of life.
"We believe that women in rural areas, townships and villages must have the opportunity to open successful businesses or cooperatives to generate income.
"We are aware that women entrepreneurs remain on the periphery of the national economy.
Their activities are concentrated in making and selling crafts, hawking as well as the personal and retail sectors," said Zuma.
He said the low participation of women in business was due to, among others, poor access to business opportunities, information and knowledge on how to run successful businesses.
Research shows that women formed the majority of the country's unemployed, with most of these living in rural areas.
On Tuesday, Zuma said government has set aside R57 million through the Land Care programme for projects aimed assisting women in rural areas.
Efforts were also in place to invest in the long term development of women in scarce skills, especially science and technology, with the enrolment of women in universities having increased from 48% in 1996 to 56% in 2008.
But Zuma did say government was concerned that the target of women participation in mining had still not been met, as indicated by the recent mining charter review. "This means more must be done to open this sector for women."
Women will also benefit from the implementation of government's massive infrastructure development programme in which the State is making an investment of more than R800 billion over the next few years.
"We will be rolling out large scale projects such as energy, dams, roads, public transport and communication infrastructure nationwide," said Zuma, adding that there were also opportunities for women in other sectors of the economy, including green industries.
Earlier, Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale denounced what he called the "exclusion of women in the country's mainstream economy.
"It is a fact that many women are still left behind in terms of economic emancipation. Working together, we can do more to change the condition of the women of our country. It should never be accepted that many women are still living under abject poverty conditions, with no access to basic services such as electricity and sanitation," he said.